I just watched Penny Wong’s eloquent speech in the Senate about ‘polite prejudice’, and a memory floated to the surface of my tired brain. The memory was this: five years ago I emailed Penny Wong, after her appearance on Q & A. Her comments got a lot of coverage at the time, so you may remember this exchange:
I can’t remember what I wrote to the honourable Senator but it would have been something like ‘Good on you’. To her credit, she emailed back and said, ‘thanks for your support’.
I was chuffed at the time because I am not in the habit of contacting politicians. I’ve done it three times and as I reflect on it, I can see that there is a pattern. When I’ve been moved to contact a politician, it has been to express my support, and each time it has been to a female politician who I felt was being picked on.
Before Penny Wong it was Julia Gillard who, it must be said, abjectly failed the leadership test when it came to gay marriage while she was in office. Nonetheless, I thought she was treated unfairly and that that unfairness was a product of the most base, contemptible sexism. Before Gillard it was Joan Kirner. Remember her? She was Premier of Victoria briefly, after the Labor government down there shat itself back in the early 90s.
That seems a long time ago now. I was living in Canberra then, and was busy being young, out and proud. Nobody talked about gay marriage at that time, or even about gays having children. Such things were just not part of our expectations, as young lesbian and gay people.
The big issue for gay men in those days was AIDS, obviously. Lesbian politics was mainly diverted into feminist issues – hence we did things like writing to beleaguered female politicians. I don’t remember marriage even coming up. If it did it was roundly dismissed as ‘mimicking the breeders’ or something like that. ‘Breeder,’ incidentally, is a word that seemed to disappear from the lexicon very quickly, once poofs and dykes starting breeding like rabbits themselves.
And they all did. Without exception, the dykes that I was friends with in my early 20s are now in ‘settled domestic relationships’, as Tony Abbott calls them. Some are already married, because they ended up with men. Most have children as well. Because that’s what they wanted. Because that’s what everyone wants. Really, everyone wants a home with someone who loves them or who, at the very least, will be there for them because let’s face it, life can be fucking hard. And lonely.
None of them seemed to feel overly deprived, though, about not being able to enter into the sanctity of marriage. In 2004, when John Howard amended the Marriage Act to clarify that it was indeed intended to exclude same-sex couples, it seemed odd. Nobody in the GLBT community was even talking about marriage. Sure, it might have been made legal in Vermont or Denmark or wherever but here, the subject of marriage rights was more likely to be greeted with a sanctimonious speech about how there were ‘much more important things’ that gays and lesbians should be worrying about. I seem to recall that Community Action Against Homophobia took this line, for example.
My, haven’t they changed their tune! Now everybody is talking about it and everybody is in favour of it and all the poofs and dykes seem to feel aggrieved about their inability to get married. Because it’s about rights, of course. Once the debate is framed in terms of rights rather than privileges then everyone has a right to feel angry.
Whether they are angry about their inability to get married or about being treated differently by the law or about this postal survey nonsense or at the Tony Abbotts and Cory Bernardis who brought it about, they all seem to have got to the same place. Proposals to boycott the vote have faded way. Even the usual anger toward GLBT people who have a less than glorious history when it comes to marriage (like Penny Wong), or towards straight people whose sympathies are nakedly opportunistic (like Bill Shorten) seems to have been put on hold. I’ve never seen such unity and better still, it reaches beyond our community to all Australians with goodwill and justice in their hearts. I wonder if Aboriginal people campaigning for their referendum fifty years ago felt like this?
Vote. Yes. Now.
Yet I’m conscious that it’s not my rights that I will be voting for and it’s not going to improve my life even one little tiny bit. I’m not going to marry – I’m single. At 50, it is unlikely that I will find someone. I will not, therefore, benefit from this enhancement of my rights.
Indeed, if gay marriage does have any impact on my own life, I suspect it is likely to be negative. No doubt I will be accused of pessimism but I do not think that a shift in social status from ‘queer person in her 50s’ to ‘unmarried woman in her 50s’ is likely to be positive. But among all that my friends have said about gay marriage over the last few months, not one has indicated the vaguest awareness that a single person might feel differently about this issue to someone who is in a ‘settled domestic relationship’. This does not bode well.
I will vote, of course. And vote yes. It goes without saying. But I won’t be putting glitter in the envelope, as some have suggested. As chance would have it, I have another request from the Government that I need to respond to. It’s from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program – another dubious present for my 50th birthday. I’ve just finished gathering my sample. I thought I might mail them off together.